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Interview with The White Pube

Below you will find an email interview with The White Pube, an art criticism (and sometimes curatorial) collaborative duo based on the www (and physically in the UK) between Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad. If you've got some time, you can click around on their website before reading this, and check out some of their podcasts, exhibition reviews, ideas, and hosted artists-in-residence on the site so you can have a lil context before diving in here.   


Do you consider your art criticism/curation as part of your art practice?

Hello, yes, sort of. It’s mostly the criticism, or the fact that i am now a whole-ass writer writing every other week that is bleeding over. But more and more i find myself blending the line between what i do 4 the white pube and what i do as an artist. My work is becoming more text based, i am using that as a vehicle to deliver my thoughts (whereas before twp it was thru video) n also my taste in art (by making judgements on other ppl’s work) is shifting the way i make my own work (I now am more aware of what i like, don’t like, what i like to have considered as someone in a room with art;;; i am more flexible accommodating for an audience now as an artist) - - it’s a v sticky n symbiotic relationship, not clear cut at all, just a squishy limit to them both.

But its all on a line anyway isnt it. Going to therapy is a part of my practice atm, just as much as producing a piece of art criticism each week or posting on instagram 1x a day. I never want to get too caught up in the pedantics.

You've stated that it's important to focus on art outside of main city centers where the cultural elite thrives (in your case, avoiding London in favor of other places in the UK like Liverpool and Chesterfield)- can you explain that a lil bit and how "regional conversations" are different from the city ones?

It’s a v strange one, and it’s a lot to fit in one sentence but grammar is a construct so: Perrrrsonally i think regional art groups are suffering from not having the same speed / connections / funding / exposure / n critical support that London-based artists are swimming in, n it really seems to b draining people’s faith in their own value as creatives. More and more people i know here in liverpool or middlesbrough are kind of admitting they aren’t at the level they want to be, but also they don’t feel like they are in a community that will help them progress. Which is stressful when a lot of people move out of London bc they cant afford any time to live n make past making rent, but then they get here n find that while there’s all the time in the world, the audiences are small and success means something else here. On top of that, IF someone is going to write about ur cultural activity, it’s either going to be a write-up on some boring journalistic website, n it’s not really going to be read. It’s weird too bc with the reviews we post on we can use google analytics to see where those texts are being read and 45% of our readers - n this has been steady from the beginning - are in London. Liverpool is never on our top 10 audience list and i literally am reviewing the shit here every other week. Thats some mad problem we’ve got, and tbh it makes me disappointed in the regional cities. It’s a big old mess and i have no idea where to start fixing it. I just want artists to thrive and make good work but they’re not in a place that wants them to? idk.

Your art criticism comes in a variety of formats like podcasts, social media posts about anything, videos, longer written posts, etc. What is your motivation for using so many different mediums and how does that fulfill your pursuits?

Idk, i think it’s just nice for us to change it up a bit. Like writing a whole text takes longer n is more considered than the pace of thinking n delivering those thoughts in the form of a podcast. Twitter is a different set of concerns to instagram (i hate instagram so so much tbh, prefer twitter massively) i think ,,, hmmmm the way it fills our pursuits is like it’s just the vehicle for them. It’s a delivery mechanism tbh, it’s not the bit that matters, it’s the message not the medium, ygm?  

You've debated between the two of you over who can be an artist and whether people like graphic designers, architects, etc, can hone the title of artist -- do you think that expanding the title to be more accessible is helpful to ppl who get disregarded as craftsppl (usually women i feel like w textiles and shit) or rather damaging to the ppl who make a lot of sacrifices to be artists??

I think this is a tricky subject. On one side, we r very biased bc we both spent 4 years of our lives in art school, spent £9k a year to do that n dedicated time money effort n labour to study what it means to be an artist. We come from art skl n that specific background. But,,,,  by no means do u have to do that whole slog to call urself an artist. Ppl are artists without BAFAs (See our Nanny Cam screenings) and some ppl come out of their BAFAs being rather excellent illustrators or designers rather than excellent artists. N that’s fine i think. For example i did 4 years learning how to make art and now I exclusively write about it instead.

I am in a mood rn where i am keen on embracing specificity n expertise without the snobbery of formalising that expertise w institutional gravitas of “o, i did my MA at the RCA i am an authority”... like i am keen on the line before expertise becomes authority if u see what i mean. Vive le armchair expert. They normally r quite knowledgeable. RE: craftsppl, yes,,, this is a thing, labour gendered as women’s work is lesser, not fine art enough, not grand enough, not academic enough to be held to the same lofty standard as ~ ooo landscape paintings ~ ooo Gainsborough ~. But, tbh i think other ppl are doing a splendid job at levelling that n proving that knitting can be a valid medium for art to smuggle itself in in - just through including it in their artistic practices. N idk if it’s about expanding the title to be more accessible or if it’s j about admitting that art isn’t rly about what u use to say something (the delivery) but about how u actually go about sayin it (the reasoning, the context, the gut the intuition behind it all ~discourse etc) like…. If u bloody love knitting n ur doing a durational knitting performance or a sculpture of the … whatever. Idk if it’s accessibility that allows us to call that art. It’s just not being a dickhead innit. Like, that literally is art without making special allowances or stretching, u have made something that is quite firmly and definitely art. So fuck everything else.

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TWP is evidently shaped by the ~web, linking to articles by others about topics you discuss (which is important to uplifting other art criticism and like letting ur readers enter a lil conversation), and even running an online residency-- do you think the internet provides access and opportunity that physical art spaces do not? Do you believe the website (+social media sites) you're on rn is the best medium/venue/host for TWP?

Yes, yes yes,;;; the web is a difficult thing. I am hesitant to say ‘it’s amazing, never go to a gallery again’ bc i think it is a rly nice medium with which to supplement irl experiences. N like,,, outside of london, those irl experiences being regional and specific r super important to making sure non-london art scenes r alive and kicking n valued and also (importantly) not j the same 20 white ppl going to the pv of ur local artist led space. It happens. So. yes and no to access n opportunity that physical art spaces don’t. For eg: physical space takes money. Twitter is free. Website hosting is cheaper than rent. It is 100% more affordable, 100% ur more able to direct attention to other ppl u believe in n cite them as a radical feminist action, n 100% ur more likely to reach a wider audience than just ~ppl who r able to visit in person~ n so that’s amazing n excellent. But going into galleries is a full body experience (or should be) n i wouldn’t trade that for VR in a second. The internet is (for us at least) only half the story)

So havin said all that it has to be the best medium for us. We visit an exhibition on a tuesday, write about it all week, and then publish on sunday;; n next week it will be something else. How impossible and expensive and not even fun would it be to try and do that in print. The internet allows us to be as fast as we are.

people hav asked if our endgame is to have a gallery and i dont know why, i d k how many times we have to stress we are art critics. But even a gallery would not have the same audience, and tbh writing this is making me realise how important our readership is. Ur right, They are the people we bounce off. It would kill me if they couldn’t have what we had on offer, and they do rn, because we are a website.

Do you think the traditionally exclusive "white cubes" and big museums can reverse their lack of engagement with non-white/non-male people with honesty (as you've credited Middlesbrough with) or is it necessary to just start up new institutions (institutions used loosely, doesn't have to be so centralized ofc)?

Ok, so i been thinkin bout this. A LOT. i think both r necesary. Doing the DIY life means u have no money, the ppl ur working with get no money;;; ur all forced to do alllll this labour for free (it’s shit) but working w institutions is shit also bc: tokenism, smaller budget than u expect, smaller budget than ur white counterparts (u suspect thru rumour that is normally tru), and j bare white ppl all over the place mashing ur words into something it’s not.

Basically institutions can and do suck, it takes more than honesty to reverse a lifetime of non-engagement w an audience beyond the white middle class. Honesty is not enough imo.

Bc setting up ur own institution can only ever work if u work with existing institutions. Otherwise the money is not there. U r not funded, unless u r good at doing it, unless u make that half ur job. And tbh that’s fine if u can, but many ppl cannot. Esp w DIY life being unfunded, even finding the time to write an Arts Council England app is hard. (And at the end of the day, do you even want to use ACE’s money? Half the ACE-funded projects i see, i think: the public paid for this and it is not something the public wants or needs, set it on fire).

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art’s approach to engagement is quite a specific tone, where they close the gallery spaces one afternoon a week and have a big free lunch for whoever wants it. N so people see the gallery as a provider and a friend, before even a place to find culture. Thats the kind of genuine ‘engagement’///invitation i believe in right now. Then on top of that they always have a big chunk of their exhibition programming ABOUT middlesbrough itself, very obvious strategy but it makes the building relevant and useful;; ‘the useful museum’ they are called in fact ~.

Do you have any advice for young/marginalized artists/art administrators who live in this gig economy and are constantly toggling between resisting exploitative systems in the art world while still making their art and ~livin? You've written about how to get off the ground you need some free-friend favors which seems unfair, so any advice to ppl who also don't have those networks would be also v appreciated!!

Hmmmmm. Ye in Money Feelings we did talk about relying on free-friend favours ( n I think my advice would be to make those networks. Message ppl on insta, email them out the blue. Meet them irl n make friends! Art date. Help them, work w them. Get a part time job that has nothing to do w art (if ur an artist), but that isn’t soul crushing. If ur an arts administrator, find institutions like INIVA that r so here for the yung marginalised n keep at it. Find traineeships maybe? My advice is bad and shallow bc i am also in the middle of this. I cannot afford to move out my mum’s house. If i get a part time job i have to cut down on TWP/art hours bc atm it is a full time job. Idk man. It’s hard. Build a support system. Be good. Know when to rest and when to fight. And never ever ever replicate those systems of exploitation when dealing w other folx like u, who r also marginalised; whether ur in a position of power or not. Never ever ever ever.

i know u asked for advice to people who don’t have those networks but the world is literally social and so i dont know how to get to where u want to be and have a meaningful experience in art without finding ur collaborators and cheerleaders. I dont know how i would do this without zarina and being in TWP, i wouldn’t be able to, it would be too scary and big. Having someone to admit those quiet thoughts to is so important.

Find help in grown ups too. Im not even messing. Find your mentors, just email and ask for advice;; they can be your Art Mum and your Art Dad and they can help you grow.

What is a question you haven't been asked in an interview that you've wanted to be asked?

If u could be an animal what animal would u be? I would be a narwhal or a sloth OR an enormous beautiful frog. :)

Thanks for reading everyone. If you find TWP to be important and doing work that is urgent and missing (I do !!!), and have the means, you can consider donating to their Patreon here. Otherwise, keep up with them on various social media accounts (Twitter + Insta). 

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